20 August 2008
Andre Smith - #71 – JR – 6-5 – 340 lbs – 2 Varsity Letters
Drew Davis - #79 – JR - 6-7 – 276 lbs – No Varsity Letters
Taylor Pharr - #68 – SO – 6-6 – 288 lbs – 1 Varsity Letter
John Michael Boswell - #67 – 6-5 – 300 lbs – True Freshman
Tyler Love - #72 – FR – 6-7 – 290 lbs – True Freshman
Barrett Jones - #75 – FR – 6-5 – 280 lbs – True Freshman
Marlon Davis - #76 – SR – 6-2 – 300 lbs – 3 Varsity Letters
Evan Cardwell - #70 – JR – 6-2 – 278 lbs – 2 Varsity Letters
Alfred McCullough - #52 – SO – 6-2 – 292 lbs – No Varsity Letters
David Ross - #74 – SO – 6-3 – 295 lbs – No Varsity Letters
William Vlachos - #73 – FR – 6-0 – 305 lbs – Redshirt Freshman
Antoine Caldwell - #58 – SR – 6-3 – 305 lbs – 3 Varsity Letters
Brian Motley - #66 – SO – 6-2 – 289 lbs – 1 Varsity Letter
Who are the starters?
That appears to be set, from left to right – Andre Smith, Mike Johnson, Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis, Drew Davis
Who are the primary backups?
This is where things get blown up. Almost all of these guys are capable of playing multiple positions, and several guys have moved around considerably. This is where the vast majority of the competition will come in practice.
The starting group has 86 career starts, which is, at first glance, fantastic. It is a bit misleading, though. All 13 of Johnson’s starts came at right tackle last year, though he was a guard prior to moving to tackle. And typically when you talk about a group that has that many starts, they have come as a group. That isn’t the case with these guys, with suspensions and injuries haven taken guys out of the lineup for a variety of games over the past 2 seasons.
Even with that the case, there is reason for optimism about this group. Given that Alabama has had massive struggles on the offensive line over the past several seasons, resulting in an inconsistent rushing attack and an oft-sacked QB, the mere idea that the line could be a strength is a reason for celebration in the streets of Tuscaloosa.
When you consider that the line is anchored on the end by Jacobs Award winner Smith and in the middle by team captain and Rimington Award Watch Lister Antoine Caldwell. Both of these guys will be playing in the NFL, both likely next season. They are among the ten best overall players on the team, possibly among the top 5. Their health and ability to stay on the field will dictate the success of Alabama’s offense to possibly the same extent as John Parker Wilson. These guys are that good.
M. Davis and Johnson both had good seasons last year as well. Johnson was a bit out of place at tackle, but managed to start all 13 games without total disaster. There were times that he was outmatched, though - most especially the Ole Miss, Mississippi State & Auburn games. Davis was solid until he missed 4 games due to a suspension for improper use of text books. These two guys are very capable and experienced at this point, and should be capable of manning the 2 guard spots.
Right tackle is still a question mark, though. The common saying is that a chain is only as good as its weakest link, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on D. Davis. He hasn’t lettered in his career, only playing in 2 total games, so experience is a question mark. At this time last year I would say that it would be fair to say that he was not on most fans’ radar as an option for playing time, much less the starting lineup. Give him a ton of credit, though, as he has shown a tremendous amount of improvement – so much so that he was the co-winner of the Bart Starr Most Improved Player Award during the spring (with Justin Woodall).
With Davis having seemingly emerged out of nowhere, he will attempt to bring some level of consistent play to a position that has given Bama fans ulcers for the last 3 seasons. There is a lot of pressure on him to play well, and that pressure will only intensify as Bama’s opponents will doubtless attack him on the edge rather than go after Smith.
Before getting into the guys battling for depth it is worth noting that there are 2 guys on the offensive line that were playing different positions last year.
Brian Motley actually made the move to the o-line from nose guard at the end of the spring, though many thought that his move was related to a nagging injury. Injuries have been a consistent problem for him, though he has managed to avoid it so far this year. Surprisingly he has already managed to find his way to the #2 spot at center.
Alfred McCullough was moved from nose guard to defensive end in the spring, and had a huge A-Day. But as the regular season portion of the schedule has started, he’s now on the offensive line. He excelled there in high school, so the move isn’t a total shock. If he is able to quickly pick up the Tide offense, he will likely stay at left guard, with the Tide looking to replace 3/5 of its line after this season. If he struggles to learn the schemes there is a chance that he could move back to the defense.
The other main thing to note would be the positioning of the Tide’s 3 true freshmen.
It was thought by many that Tyler Love would come in and compete for time at right tackle. A stress fracture in the middle of summer workouts slowed him down at the beginning of fall camp, but after getting to 100% he has begun to show the talent that had him rated a 5-star player by the folks at Rivals. He’s been getting most of his time on the left side, having moved his way up to the 2nd unit. Ideally he will be able to redshirt behind Smith and take over for the big fellow if he does, as expected, leave early for the NFL.
John Michael Boswell started at tackle, moved inside to guard, and then made his way back to tackle. He got a little bit of a heads up on the other incoming guys during the spring when he took advantage of living in Tuscaloosa to attend every spring practice. Obviously he could not participate in drills, but I would imagine that he spent a good deal of time soaking up the offense. It appears to have paid a huge dividend as he has opened the regular season part of practice as the #2 guy at right tackle, ahead of Taylor Pharr who was expected to compete for the starting spot.
Barrett Jones is one of the more versatile guys on the line already. He came to Alabama as the #1 ranked center in the nation by Rivals, despite only playing the position during all-star games. He has moved back and forth from guard to tackle over the spring, even spending most of the last week of fall camp as the #2 guy at right guard. At the moment he is back at tackle, working with the 3rd unit on the left side.
Versatility is the word for both Evan Cardwell & William Vlachos, as well. Both of these guys spent the final week of fall camp with the 3rd unit, which was the source of quite a bit of surprise here at BamaSportsReport.com.
Cardwell has already made his way back into the 2nd unit, but at guard rather than at center where he has 7 starts in his career. With Bama only having 2 guys at center at the moment Cardwell likely won’t abandon the position completely, as he might be called on in the case of an injury to anyone on the line to replace Caldwell, who might be the actual #2 at the other 4 positions on the line. He spent most of the spring at guard, but given his experience at center, I don’t think it would be much of a transition for him to move right back.
Vlachos was a guy that I expected to challenge for playing time at center. No, I didn’t expect him to beat Caldwell for the position; that would just be foolish. What I expected was that he would prove strong enough at center for the Tide staff to take advantage of Caldwell at another position. When you consider that Vlachos is currently working 3rd team at right guard, it would be safe to say that I was very, very wrong. He is considered by some to be the strongest player on the team, and the coaches loved him in 2008. I’m not sure what has transpired over the course of the last month, but I would not be shocked at all to see Vlachos end up playing this year, especially if any of the incoming freshmen are redshirted, at either guard or center.
With all of the excitement of the new guys and the position moves of some other guys Davis Ross has been the forgotten man. All he’s done is simply hold off all competitors for the #2 spot at left guard. He hasn’t shown it in a real game yet, but a solid performance on A-Day seemed to propel him forward to a solid fall camp. This is his 3rd year on campus and that’s usually when lineman start to make an impact. Backup linemen rarely get any publicity, so it’s awfully easy to simply forget about a guy who has busted his butt and simply not seen the field.
Taylor Pharr looked during the spring to be on the verge of battling for the starting spot at right tackle. Having finally grown into the role, his athleticism and strength were thought to be huge advantages over not only D. Davis, but also all 3 of the incoming guys. So far things have not gone as planned, with Pharr right now working with the 3rd unit. There is still obviously the possibility of the incoming guys redshirting, and if that happens, you can bet that Pharr would be the #2 guy at right tackle. It will be interesting to see how he responds to having moved down on the depth chart during fall camp.
None of Bama’s 9 non-starting lineman are set for a definite position. Some guys are more suited for guard or tackle, but at this point Ross & McCullough at guard and Love at tackle are the only certainties. Of course any of these guys could flip from left to right (or vice versa). The versatility of these guys makes depth not quite as big of a concern as it appeared to be 2 months ago.
Depth and experienced depth are two totally different things, and of those 9 guys only Cardwell & Pharr have letters. So an injury to a starter could possibly be covered by inserting an experienced guy, or possibly shifting things around. But if the line takes hits that require several of the backups to play, there will be massive inexperience on the line. Of course, with D. Davis starting at right tackle, experience is an issue at least out on the right end.
It would be easy to say that 4 of the Tide’s starters from last year’s line are back and last year’s line was ineffective; therefore this line should be ineffective. But the reality is that when those 4 guys were all in the game together (with Johnson at right tackle) the line was actually effective. When the suspensions of M. Davis and Caldwell hit, things went downhill quickly.
If these 4 guys are able to stay healthy and in the lineup the focus will shift to right tackle. If D. Davis or one of his backups are able to lock down that position, thein there is absolutely reason to believe that this unit could be very good – even a team strength. Those are two pretty big “ifs” there, so there is (as always) reason to have some concern over the offensive line.
Joe Pendry took a ton of criticism last year, and the vast majority of it was unwarranted. He had a group that had several players that were not of SEC caliber, several players who were limping around on bum legs, and several guys who were not physically in shape to withstand the rigors of the SEC. All 3 of those things have changed, and Pendry’s experience at both the college and NFL levels indicates that he should be able to do something with a healthy, conditioned & veteran unit.
glen55's quick takes
Apparently most of the obscene number of sacks registered in last week's scrimmage came against backup offensive linemen. It's always hard to figure out whether to be delighted with the defensive line play or apprehensive about the offensive line play when one side turns in that sort of dominant performance in a scrimmage - but here's a hint: the Tide has accounted for an anemic 37 sacks over the last two seasons combined, and 14 of those were chalked up by the departed Wallace Gilberry.
That's get me leaning apprehensive on the old apprehensive-delighted continuum.
On the other hand, it's usually not realistic to expect much out of the backup offensive line. For whatever reason - perhaps because the OL tends to establish a game rhythm as a unit - you don't see much in the way of situational OL substitutions from most teams, or even much of guys getting a series off to stay fresh.
As a result, backup offensive linemen tend to be pretty green and raw compared to backups at other positions, and that's on a universal basis. So having a backup OL that gets toasted in a scrimmage isn't the worst, or most unexpected, of problems. It's just one of those things that happens.
As for the returning starters, based on a look at last year's results pre- and post-Textbookgate, I'm pretty confident.
- 173.3 yards per game rushing.
- 145.4 yards per game rushing.
I'll take 173.3 with a stable of running backs that was, in my eyes, no better than serviceable, and can only be better this year.
- 1.75 sacks, 2.6 hurries per game
- 2.2 sacks, 5.0 hurries per game
Again, we're looking at pretty good protection when we had everybody out there. With four starters back, it's just logical to expect better.
Drew Davis - if Drew Davis hadn't been willing to accept a grayshirt, he would never have donned a Bama jersey unless he bought it at the local strip mall. But here he is with all our hopes and dreams of beating the Great Right Tackle Famine riding on his broad shoulders.
Really, it's hard to tell on OL prospects. Unlike the top wideouts and running backs, many of whom are visibly playing at college-level as high schoolers, most of the big 'uns are just kind of trying to move their bulk around at that age, and they don't even have enough of that.
For offensive linemen, it's more about weight room devotion and concentration on the practice field and in the film room than it is about natural ability. Not only that, but you can never really tell the way a guy's body is going to react to the physical training and development regime that schools throw at big guys until you throw it at him and see what sticks.
Enough stuck for 2-star grayshirt Davis that he is now wearing 305 pounds fairly comfortably - a good 45 pounds he didn't have when he first reported for spring practice back in '05 - and looking to trot out with the first team against Clemson. Whereas four-stars Ross and Pharr, each in their third year with the squad, are looking on in envy.